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Slow Burn

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Wasn’t it entirely out off character for him to invite him for drinks? Anyway, it was too late now. He leaned on the bar looking into his Scotch, his second one. Or third. He had poured down a double upon arrival.

The trial was eleven weeks ago. Not guilty. He was in some weird state where he managed to not think about what he’s done. He just didn’t think about it. No contemplating about feeling guilty and not guilty at the same time. It was not behind him. But he managed not to think about it. In a way, that felt good. He had never said goodbye.

Rafael had said goodbye to Liv in front of the court house. They have only met a few times after that. He thinks, she is angry at him for leaving. So be it. He is not able to deal with this for now. He had said goodbye to Carmen of course. And Fin had said goodbye to him. Fin had been cleverer than him. The morning after the trial, Fin had waited outside of his favorite coffee place, hugged him, wished him the best and told him to call now and then. These were the kind of goodbyes that Rafael liked. The ones where there is nothing left to say.

He took a burning sip of the Scotch. Rafael’s problem now was that his work was the love of his life. He is a passionate man and now he had nothing to put his passion into. He was bored. Which also felt good actually. He was not ready yet to get a new job. He finished his drink, just when he felt a warm hand on his shoulder. The detective sliding next to him with a casual smile. There was no free bar stool.

It was very out of character for him to ask him to share a few drinks. Last weekend, he had briefly met with Liv and Noah in the park. She hadn’t talked about work and he hadn’t asked. It had been weird. So, he had made a mental note to start wondering about his old workplace on Monday. Which he did. Should he have said goodbye to everyone? He didn’t give a damn about anyone in the DA’s office, except Carmen. At the squad, Rollins would have given him a clean goodbye, like Fin, just with less heart probably. Besides, Rafael did not find her particularly nice. So he had been deliberating on the remaining detective - with no result.
Then, on Thursday evening, sitting on his little balcony, pouring down an extra spicy Scotch named “Prophecy” from the lonely Scottish island of Jura where George Orwell once wrote his dark novel 1984, he had picked up his phone and texted the detective: Hey. He should have been able to add something verbally more elegant, but the reply came almost immediately: Hey. Rafael could almost hear the surprise out of this word.

   R: How are you doing?
   S: Fine, workin a lot as usual. Nothin special
   S: How are u?
   R: I’m ok. Nothing special, too
   S: Still unemployed?
   R: Yeah, I am mastering doing nothing
   S: Dont u miss the law?
   R: Yeah. But I need some time off after what I done
   S: Dont treat urself too hard
   R: Are you upset with me?
   S: No
   R: Ok
   S: I dont think you did smt wrong.
   R: Nothing can break your affection in me?
   S: No… but not that. You tried to do good. I dont judge
   R: So, no hard feelings?
   S: Nope
   R: Look.
   R: You wanna grab a drink sometime when you’re free?
   S: Why?
   R: What kind of answer you expect over texting?
   S: Okay
   S: Need to stay late tmw for paperwork but no work on Saturday, so what do u say we hit the bar around 10-10.30 tmw?
   R: Ok then
   S: But Im buying
   R: No, I invited you
   S: Ur unemployed cant let u pay
   R: You’re too polite
   S: And ur too impolite to reject
   R: No objection
   S: Okay then, cu tmw
   R: Bye

Nothing surprises Rafael about this man. He is utterly loyal, nice and kind. Rafael doesn’t deserve it. Even after eleven weeks of silence, he just asks him how he is and agrees to meet him the next day. Nevertheless, he had not been sure if the good catholic boy would offer him a small guilt trip. Or worse, if his former shadow would be disappointed in him. At the very least, he would offer him some eye candy, that's for sure.

So here they were. It was nearly eleven o’clock. The warm smile that he beamed at Rafael shined into his bright blue eyes. He’s too much. He really was happy to see him. This is why so many people, including Rafael in the beginning, don’t get along with him: He wears his heart on his sleeve.
“Hi”, Carisi said, giving a thumbs up to Rafael's empty glass. "I hope you didn’t wait too long.” 
“It’s okay, I have time”, Rafael replied. Carisi was still wearing his suit from work. A three piece, slim-fit, navy blue suit with a matching tie, shirt light blue. Too much hair jelly.
“A beer”, Carisi gestured to the bartender. “And another Scotch for him.” Carisi turned to him. He looked tired. “It was a nice surprise. Are you okay?”, Carisi asked in honest concern.
“I’m alright. - Really”, he added because he knows concerned Carisi does not believe him. Rafael talked quiet and fast, looking Carisi in the eye. “I am taking my time. Right now, I try not to think about my actions too much. So let’s not talk about this. If you have something you need to say, get it off your heart now and then shut up about it for the rest of the evening”, Rafael said harshly. Carisi studied Rafael's face thoughtfully, but his smile was still intact. He slowly shook his head.
“No. As I said. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You did what you thought was right. I respect that.”
Rafael knew about Carisi's niece’s trial that had ended a couple of weeks ago. He should ask Carisi how he is dealing with all that. But Rafael decided to avoid a sensitive subject.

So everything was said. Carisi is so genuine. Rafael was happy Carisi was not going to make a fuzz. Rafael didn’t want to get emotional. Perfectly timed, the bartender put a new Scotch in front of him and gave Carisi his beer. Carisi took it and gulped half of the beer down in one go. He looked tired. A stray of dirty blond hair won against the hair product and fell down his forehead. Rafael liked that. “We should get you a chair”, he said lazily.
“Nah. I have been sitting for the last five hours or something”, Carisi replied. Staten Island accent unscathed. “But let’s not talk about work.” What else should they talk about? Carisi poured down the rest of his beer and looked at him, pointing with his eyes to Rafael’s Scotch.
The next one would be his fifth drink within half an hour, he needs to slow down. “I got a little head start”, Rafael said shaking his head. Carisi shrugged his shoulders and ordered himself another beer. Carisi stretched his long body and stroke his big hand over his face. He just looked tired.

“So, why?”, Carisi asked again, looking Rafael in the eye. Rafael had tried to answer that question the day before via text, but had failed. Was he trying to catch up with an ex-colleague? No. Was he feeling bad for not saying goodbye after they worked so closely together? Yes. Was it because he indeed had a thing for that eager, self-confident, tall man? Maybe.
“I just… I never said my goodbyes. You annoyed me a lot and I guess, I was a shitty mentor but once I got around that puppy eye act, I enjoyed working with you. So…”, Rafael said breathing out, shrugging his shoulder. What more was there to say?
“I never expected that you would say anything near that nice to me tonight”, Carisi smirked. It suits him.
“Well, this is all the niceness that I have to give for today”, Rafael burned some Scotch down his throat. The bartender gave Carisi his beer. Carisi turned around and stood with the back to the bar, putting his elbow on the counter and letting his eyes trail over the crowd. Carisi put the beer bottle to his pink lips. The shadow of his beard showed. His Adam’s apple moved when he swallowed. Rafael let his eyes trail over Carisi’s form. Tall, thin, some muscles. That man was made for wearing suits. Or uniforms. He just looks like a cop. Why did he ever take the bar?, Rafael wondered. Even though his thoughts started to babble, Rafael realized that Carisi had returned his attention back to him. Rafael slowly looked over the blue suit up to the matching eyes. Carisi gave him a surprised, but amused look. Rafael didn’t care, four drinks in and they didn’t work together anymore. He could check him out openly. Carisi smiled and didn’t say anything. Rafael enjoyed that Carisi likes being appreciated.

“We miss you at SVU”, Carisi said.
“I know no other DA can keep up with me”, Rafael commented sharply.
Carisi smiled: “He is doing all right. But I miss you, you helped me a lot with passing the bar and legal insights…”
“You said we wouldn’t talk about work”, Rafael cut him off. He was not comfortable with Carisi giving him compliments about their former work life. He didn’t want to hear it.
Carisi seemed to understand. “Okay. Then tell me what are you doing these days?”, Carisi asked turning around to lean in closer. The bar was loud.
“On Wednesday, I finished two books in one afternoon”, Rafael said, raising his brow ironically.
“How many pages?”, Carisi asked.
“One around a hundred and fifty and the other one two hundred.”
“Nah, that’s not impressive. We both studied law, we are used to more”, Carisi smiled. Rafael wondered when he had started to tolerate the Staten Island accent.
“You should have asked about the titles”, Rafael replied arrogantly.
“Okay, which books did you read?” His second beer was finished. He ordered the next one and a new Scotch for Rafael. He hadn’t finished his last one. The bartender put the new Scotch next to his last half-finished one.

Because another stray of blond hair fell onto his forehead, Rafael allowed Carisi to talk about his Mamma’s book club on Staten Island. But he was not nice enough to listen. He tasted the heavily peated Scotch on his tongue and slowly swallowed, enjoying the slow burn in his throat. Carisi’s babbling was like background music. It was a good evening. He bend forward a bit because he wanted to smell Carisi’s cologne. He had always found it too soft for him. After the long day Carisi had, the cologne had worn off anyways. He smelled more like himself. Scent of a man.

Rafael tilted his head a bit while studying Carisi’s face. Was Carisi straight? He had asked himself that question many times. He probably was.
“Maybe you should start a book club”, Carisi concluded and gestured for another beer.
“Maybe you should go easy on the drinks”, Rafael replied.
“It was a long week and I don’t have to work tomorrow”, Carisi said. He ran his long fingers through his gold and silver hair. “Don’t you miss the law?”, Carisi asked again.
“I do, I am bored”, Rafael said honestly. “But it’s fine for now. I need some time off.”
“Do you know how to do that?”, Carisi asked with his eyes crinkling in amusement. Rafael lifted his Scotch in order to make a point. “I have booze and you pay for it. Couldn’t be better.” Carisi grinned. All right, Rafael would try to be nice one more time tonight and ask him a question: “What do you do when you don’t work?”
Carisi gave him an astonished look. “Well, I visit my dad and my ma on weekends. I have three sisters, two nieces… I go to Mass on Sundays. I hit the gym - sometimes.” Carisi shrugged. “I help Amanda with Jesse. I like to cook. And sometimes, I buy drinks for unemployed lawyers.” Carisi took off his suit jacket and with an apologizing smile hanged it over the bar stool that Rafael was sitting on. Rafael could swear Carisi was smelling his cologne. Luckily, he had decided to put on his most exclusive one. “And last month, I volunteered to give free legal advice to an organization in my neighborhood that helps illegal immigrants.” Carisi is too friendly. But Rafael admires his self-confidence about it. Carisi is not ashamed to be nice and he doesn’t care when people mocked him for that or took advantage of it. He is always confident with how he is. It is admirable, Rafael had to admit.
“You never date?”, Rafael asked. The fifth drink in his hand and they didn’t work together anymore, he didn’t care if that question went too far.
Carisi blushed a bit. The flushed cheeks were a fantastic look on him. Maybe this is why Rafael had enjoyed teasing him so much. “If I have the opportunity”, Carisi answered. Rafael took a deep breath, he didn’t know how to go on from that. The eloquent man, he is. Too late, because Carisi managed to bring the conversation from there to one of his sisters who gets engaged all the time and her dating life.
Rafael let him chat. He actually had gotten quite fond of the Staten Island accent over time. It felt homey.
Rafael tilted his head. For a straight guy, he uses too much hair product and wears too well-fitted suits. And he makes cakes for his coworker’s birthdays. He is also not that kind of catholic who is homophobic. But no gay alarm went on, Carisi just stroked him as straight.

The Scotch and the company made him feel good. Carisi ordered the next round. Rafael stopped keeping track of how many drinks they had. Carisi got tipsy. The beer seemed to wake him up. He talked about his sisters. He seemed to have at least six of them who all made terrible choices when it came to men. Rafael couldn’t help but laugh at one of the stories: “She should go blindfolded into a bar. She would for sure end up with a better guy.” Carisi had enough humor to laugh along.
Then Carisi talked about how his Nonna used to make him mountains of food. It reminded Rafael of his Abuelita. Carisi had made a show of pulling up his sleeves, slowly exposing the muscles of his lower arms. So Rafael told him about his Abuelita and there was nothing left to do than to smile together about the similarities.

It was nearly one o’clock when the bar started getting too loud.
Yet, the conversation was still nice.
So Rafael leaned in close so as to speak into Carisi’s ear. He took in the smell of the detective who had a long day behind him. He smelled sweet and salty. “I have a little balcony, let’s have our nightcap there”, he said into Carisi’s ears. Carisi turned his face to lock eyes and agreed. “Let’s flip the table.”